The Personal Journey of a Henna Newbie

by Angie Purnell

Drawing by Angie Purnell

For as long as I can remember, the intricate details and patterns of henna tattoos have fascinated me. I felt awe at the amount of time and skill needed to create such amazing works of art! I admired the craft from afar, yet wished I could do it… but the time and practice involved…I felt I could never achieve that. However, when the opportunity presented itself for me to learn- I jumped at it!


I was fortunate to be able to attend the Henna Intensive and Retreat, where I received a thorough introduction to henna. Hearing instruction from successful professional henna artists was priceless. Once I returned home, though, I quickly realized that being able to conquer basics (such as making the paste and putting it into a cone and applying to the skin- still a work in progress) was one thing… but overcoming my anxiety was something totally different.  Creating a design was challenging. I could manage a wobbly flower with leaves, but (despite the encouraging experience of the retreat) I came to a point that I believe most newcomers face when just starting. I didn’t want to run around putting my wobbly flower and leaves on any poor victims…umm volunteers. But designing a whole arm piece or just “putting a little something nice” together seemed way beyond me.

Drawing by Angie Purnell

Looking at the thousands of gorgeous designs on Pinterest, Instagram, on the web and posts by other artists and hobbyists, I was overwhelmed. I’d see a pattern I wanted to mimic or add my own touch to, but I didn’t know how.  Every design seemed so complicated! Where did the design begin or end? How do they make it flow so seamlessly? How do they know when the design is done? Etcetera. It was very frustrating and confusing! I just didn’t know where to start! I was tempted to give up but I remembered the words of the instructors and friends I made at the retreat: “Don’t give up- and start/keep drawing.” With those words in the back of my mind, I decided not to let that little wobbly flower define me! I hadn’t drawn in years, but darn it! I could draw! So I realized I had to go back to drawing basics.


angie recent6
Henna by Angie Purnell

I went on the internet and found some basic henna elements and some Zentangle designs that cross over well, also glyphs.  Some of the basic elements of a henna design are the hump, paisley, dot, swirl, flower, vine, leafs, etc. Once I focused more on finding the individual elements, the complicated designs seemed less, well, complicated.

I treated myself to a new sketchbook and pencils. If you don’t have one, get one! A cheap spiral notebook will work if you are tight for cash. I used the sketchbook to practice my elements. I took one element at a time and practiced drawing it repeatedly until I felt very comfortable drawing it, then moved on to the next element. I moved on to eventually combining elements.

Drawing by Angie Purnell

Repeatedly drawing the elements creates muscle memory. Once that happened, I was able to feel if an element was going to be off just by the feeling as soon as my pencil hits paper. Try it with your eyes closed and see what happens. Just by taking those steps, my drawing has definitely improved and my design anxiety has diminished. Sometimes I have to go back to a basic element when warming up in preparation to draw or apply a henna tattoo, but that’s ok and perfectly normal. I believe that these steps would work well for someone with or without drawing experience.  It’s all about Practice, Trial and Error!

As I gained more confidence, my desire to be more creative kicked in and I began coming up with loads of designs! Once this happened my focus returned to enjoying the henna process. One thing I know for sure- once you master your patterns, it will be a lot easier to apply a henna design that will be clean and consistent. Have fun!

This blog was brought to you by the Henna Intensive & Retreat. Want to learn more about the art of henna and body art? Join us for a 5 day/ 4 night retreat in the beautiful mountains of sunny Southern California! Find out more about this life changing event at


Subscribe to the Henna Retreat Blog


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s